DeWine Defends Mask Mandate as Ohio Adds More Eligibility to Vaccine Rollout, Loosens Other Restrictions

As Phase 1D and 2B of the vaccine rollout begins this week, the Ohio governor continues trying to balance public health with economic needs.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine continues to buck his GOP brethren when it comes to mandating the wearing of masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

On ABC’s news show “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” DeWine defended Ohio’s continued mask mandate when host Martha Raddatz asked him about Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently lifting all restrictions.

“Well, Martha, I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in Texas and Mississippi. We’re trying to do it the Ohio way,” DeWine said on March 7. “You know, with the vaccine, we're now on the offense, that's the great thing. But in Ohio, we can't give up the defense. We have found that these masks work exceedingly well.”

Abbott, another Republican, announced last week that the mask mandate would end and all businesses could return to full capacity in Texas beginning March 10. At the time of Abbott’s announcement, Texas still averaged more than 200 deaths per day, with fewer than 7% of residents fully vaccinated. More than 40,000 residents have died from coronavirus, the Texas Tribune reported. 

Abbott’s announcement came shortly after Texas suffered massive snowstorm and power outage throughout the state, which left many residents -- particularly those who are Black or Hispanic -- without heat or running water for days.

On “This Week,” DeWine declined to criticize Abbot directly, instead saying that Ohio would continue trying to balance public health with economic needs. 

“We've set a metric, we put a goal out there,” DeWine told Raddatz. “When we got to 50 cases per 100,000 for every two weeks -- that's what the epidemiologists that we consulted said -- then we'll be able to take the health orders off. We’re a ways from that but we’re moving forward.”

DeWine also emphasized Ohio’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts. According to NPR’s tracker, 17.2% of the state’s nearly 12 million residents have received a first dose of the vaccine, while 9.5% have received their second.

On Monday, DeWine announced Ohio would be moving into Phase 1D and Phase 2B of its vaccine rollout on March 11. Phase 1D brings in people with medical conditions that were not included in previous phases, such as type 2 diabetes and end-stage renal disease. Phase 2B brings in Ohioans who are age 50 and older.

The two new phases mean that nearly 1.4 million Ohioans will be newly eligible for the vaccine this week.

To address the surge in eligible residents, 15 mass vaccination sites, including one in Cincinnati, will open around the state this month. Cincinnati also will be getting a state-sponsored pop-up clinic.

As CityBeat recently reported, DeWine has loosened restrictions for in-person capacity at sports stadiums and other event venues. During a Feb. 25 briefing, DeWine announced that outdoor stadiums could operate at 30% capacity, provided ongoing coronavirus protocols are followed.

According to the state’s shared data as of March 8, there are 979,725 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 17,656 confirmed and probable deaths related to coronavirus in Ohio.

But though Ohio’s coronavirus-related cases and hospitalizations are dropping and more residents are being vaccinated, DeWine will continue asking Ohioans to mask up.

“When we put the mask order on and actually started enforcing it, we saw a significant drop in cases, a slowdown. So we've seen it throughout this last year, these masks really, really work,” DeWine told Raddatz. “And we're still at a fairly high level. We're at 179 cases per 100,000 for two weeks. That is over the high-incidence level. High-incidence level, according to the CDC, is 100 cases.”

“Now, we've come down a lot -- in December, we were over 700 -- so I’m optimistic about where we’re going. But, Martha, it’s not time to do it yet.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to strongly recommend masking, physical distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings and other protocols. The CDC released guidance on Monday that loosened protocols for people who have been fully vaccinated but continues recommending prior protocols when in public.

After DeWine’s segment, Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, joined Raddatz to talk about continuing coronavirus safety protocols.

“When you wear a mask, you're not just protecting yourself, you're protecting people around you. And while infection numbers are high, it is absolutely the responsible thing to do to keep those mask mandates in place. That's what public health is about. And I believe states should be very careful about them,” Jha said. “They can ease them, absolutely. But when numbers come down, when more people are vaccinated, that's the time to be easing them. Not right now.”

Read the transcripts for DeWine’s and Jha’s segments on “This Week.”

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